Friday, April 08, 2011

Preview of Ubuntu 11.04 (beta 1)

UbuntuMy favourite operating system is MacOS X, my second favourite is Ubuntu Linux.

MacOS X has been pretty stable in recent years and Ubuntu, which is clearly influenced by Apple's UI, has been getting dramatically better each year.

The Gnome desktop does work rather like Microsoft Windows and with 11.04 it looks like the MacOS influence is now coming to the fore.

The Unity desktop removes the bottom bar, adds a top bar that is cleverly shared between being global and the current application menu if it is maximised. On the left of the screen is a dock ("Unity bar") for launching applications. Top left is the Ubuntu icon where you can search for things to run, kind of like the Mac's Spotlight.

The dock is of Apple standard with lovely drag-and-drop rearrangement.

I feel like some things I use are now hidden, items in the old Preferences and Administration menus, for example - but they're all still there if you know what to search for. Update: it turns out preferences are a menu item under the "power" menu at the top right of the screen, not a place I guessed.

The top menu bar, which becomes an application's menu bar when it's maximised, is a masterstroke. It's better than what Apple does. This works in some applications but not others.

The dock is good and the popup windows, whatever you call them, during search are quick and nice looking.

Speed

After years of every upgrade of Windows getting slower (Until Windows 7) and require faster computers, it's been great to see both Apple and Ubuntu Linux get faster with each release - or at least have graphics intensive features be optional.

This version of Ubuntu feels really snappy to use and boots even faster than the previous two, that were a great improvement on the past themselves. Even re-connection to WiFi seems faster than before.

The spaces implementation is fantastic and there's an Expose style "Workspace Switcher" view that works really fast too.

Installation

I installed two ways, first using the built-in updater to go from 10.10 and second using a CD to update. The first update took about three hours, the second was maybe an hour (I left it running). Both upgrades went smoothly and kept my settings.

The estimated upgrade time varies wildly during the built-in update but eventually settles down.

After the Beta 1 install, I managed to find Software Updater and applied all the outstanding updates, so my experience is post beta 1.

Issues

Despite some bad press from other early reviewers, I'm finding this Ubuntu very good given there's about three weeks to go.

I'm seeing some minor keyboard focus issues with the dark windows that pop up for searching, (I notice that these windows don't appear in remote desktop (VNC) views of the screen so they must be cutting some graphic corners here).

The "Ubuntu Software Center" told me it needed to repair some files a couple of times but nothing bad happened.

Frustratingly, I can't see how to customise the launchers in the dock, right clicking doesn't show properties, consequently I have some broken launchers that I don't know how to fix.

Summary

Ubuntu 11.04 looks to me to be really solid. The extra screen real estate and the decision to put the dock on the side will work well with wide and small screens. The use of larger, presumably finger sized, elements means that this UI could work OK on a tablet in the future too.

The big change to Unity, plus some sensible default application changes (like LibreOffice), I found refreshing rather than a blocker. If I really can't locate what I want Gnome can be installed if required.

Great stuff Canonical and the Ubuntu team.

2 comments:

Bradley said...

Thanks so much for this great review! I don't use Ubuntu at the moment, but I hope to use it one day! The review was very informative and interesting. I've been reading a magazine called Ubuntu User, so that also keeps me up to date and also has Ubuntu on DVD! Thanks again for a great review!

Peter Marks said...

Thanks Bradley, there are still some rough edges but my experience of past releases is that there is a very rapid series of improvements as the release date grows near.